San Diego

Fallen Cal Fire Firefighter Complained of Exhaustion During Hike: Report

A report released by Cal Fire is giving new insight into the death of a firefighter who suffered a medical emergency during a training hike last month.

Yaroslav Katkov died July 29, the day after he suffered a medical emergency during a morning hike near the De Luz Fire Station.

Katkov was airlifted by the Cal Fire/San Diego County Sheriff's Department helicopter and Mercy air ambulance to Temecula Valley Hospital in Riverside County in critical condition. 

Despite medical staff efforts, he passed away on Monday morning.

According to Cal Fire's Green Sheet, a report that summarizes serious or near serious injuries and accidents, Katkov, another firefighter and a fire captain set out on a 1.45-mile hike in full wildland gear at around 8:40 a.m.

The expectation from the fire captain was that the three of them would finish the hike in 30 minutes or less, per station standard.

The report says that the fire captain and second firefighter had to stop multiple times to let Katkov catch up. Katkov finished the hike in over 40 minutes failing to meet the 30-minute time limit, so the fire captain told the two firefighters to take a 20-minute break and rehydrate before hiking the loop a second time.

The crew started the second hike at around 9:40 a.m. and Katkov was the lead hiker. The fire captain noticed Katkov moving slow, according to the report, and Katkov at one point stopped and told the captain "that he was exhausted."

The hike continued and when the crew got to the steepest section the fire captain notice Katkov struggling, the report said. The captain ordered the second firefighter to assist Katkov up the trail.

Katkov took more than 20 breaks along the trail which were documented by the captain, the report said.

About halfway through the trail, the second firefighter noticed Katkov stumbling and losing his balance. He was told to hike directly behind Katkov and hold onto him so that he didn't fall off the trail.

As they approached a ridge, the firefighter had to push Katkov's back to help him get over. Once Katkov did, he fell forward and sat down.

Katkov was then told to remove some of his gear so that he could cool down but was unable to, the report said.

More gear was taken off, and water was poured over Katkov's head. At around 10:38 a.m. when the fire captain noticed Katkov's mental status declining, he called for an air ambulance rescue.

Cal Fire's helicopter arrived over Katkov and the crew at approximately 11:19 a.m. and Katkov was hoisted from below, according to the report. About 15 minutes later, the Cal Fire dropped Katkov off at a site where a Mercy air ambulance was waiting to transport Katkov to the hospital.

The second helicopter took off with Katkov inside at around 12:04 p.m., about an hour-and-a-half after the fire captain called for emergency assistance. On the way to the hospital Katkov was unresponsive but breathing, according to the report.

The Riverside County Coroner has yet to determine Katkov's cause of death and said it could take a few more weeks.

The loop the crew was hiking is known as the Lippe Hike and it is commonly used by station personnel for training. The hike includes both trail and dirt road portions, and consists of two prominent elevation gains.

According to Cal Fire's report, the first section has an average slope of 10 percent with a maximum of 87 percent, and the second and steeper portion has an average slope of ascent of 23 percent and its steepest section is 97 percent.

Both elevation gains occur within the first three-quarters of a mile of the hike. Katkov had to be rescued near the top of the second section.

Cal Fire San Diego Captain Issac Sanchez said hikes like the one this crew went on are very common.

"They happen all the time. We try to simulate as closely as we can the conditions we work in but we're doing them in a controlled environment," Sanchez said. 

The report also details safety issues for review and lessons learned. It says early intervention for potential heat injuries is crucial, and underestimating the severity of heat-related injuries could lead to death.

"These are the facts that we know right now and the goal is to learn from them," Sanchez said.

A Cal OSHA spokesperson told NBC 7 it is still investigating Katkov's death and said a report could take up to six months to complete.

Katkov started with Cal Fire in August 2018 as a seasonal firefighter. He was assigned to the Cal Fire/San Diego County Fire Station 16 in the community of De Luz. 

He was from Russia, played football at Scripps Ranch High School. His former coaches said he knew little English and even less about American football when he joined the team, but finished his Falcon career as the starting center on a CIF semifinalist team.

Katkov is survived by his mother, father and brother

"On behalf of all Californians, Jennifer and I extend our sincere condolences to CAL FIRE Firefighter Yaroslav Katkov’s family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time," California Gov. Newsom said in a statement. "It’s the work of brave firefighters like Yaroslav that keep our communities safe, and we are deeply grateful for his service.”

No further information was available. 

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